Out in the Cold

How Matt Fitzpatrick's dash from the Scottish Open to Euro 2020 left him seething outside Wembley

July 14, 2021

Harry How

SANDWICH, England — July 11, 2021 had all-time potential. The type of day an 11-year-old Matt Fitzpatrick could only dream of. The plan: wake up, have some breakfast, light work in the gym, hit a few balls, win the Scottish Open, fly privately to London, cruise over to Wembley, watch England win the Euros.

Life, however, has a funny way of taking our plans and flushing them down the toilet.

England beat Denmark in extra time last Wednesday evening to reach the final of Euro 2020. Fitzpatrick, a massive soccer fan and a die-hard supporter of Sheffield United FC—his bag at this week’s Open Championship is an homage to the club, who were relegated from the Premier League after finishing dead-last in 2019-20—immediately secured tickets to, ideally, watch his Three Lions win their first major trophy since 1966. He originally scheduled a private jet at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon out of Edinburgh airport, roughly an hour away from Renaissance Club, the site of the Scottish Open, and about 400 miles north of where the England vs. Italy tilt would take place. It would only be a problem if he played his way into contention, as the final putt on Sunday was scheduled to drop around 5:20 p.m.

Then, of course, he played his way into contention. After opening with a pair of 66s to be one back of the lead heading into the weekend, he pushed the flight back an hour, to 5:30 p.m. After another 67 to share the lead after 54 holes, he pushed it back to around 7 p.m. It would be tight, given his 1:16 final-round tee time, but if you estimate four hours for the round (in twosomes)—and, thinking confidently, some extra time for the trophy ceremony and media obligations—not impossible. Ian Poulter and Tyrrell Hatton were also planning the mad dash to Wembley, but Fitzpatrick’s plans included only himself.

“No offense to those boys, but I didn’t want to have to rely on anyone else—very selfish, but you know how it is,” the 26-year-old joked to Golf Digest.

Fitzpatrick was three under for the day through 14 holes, 17 under overall and one shot back of Min Woo Lee’s lead when the one thing that couldn’t happen, happened: a weather delay. Storms in the North Berwick area halted play for nearly an hour and a half, which forced yet another delay of the flight. He played his final five holes in one under par to get into a three-way playoff alongside Lee and Thomas Detry, which Lee won on the first hole with a birdie. That denied Fitzpatrick his seventh European Tour title and a second Rolex Series victory.

But there were more pressing matters at hand. Despite knowing he’d miss a good portion of the game, Fitzpatrick decided against simply staying in Scotland and watching because he wanted to meet a couple friends and his brother, promising amateur and rising Wake Forest senior Alex, at the stadium.

“We got in the air by about 8:05. Just missed kickoff. Didn’t see anything, no WiFi. The pilot did tell me it was 1-0 [for England]—midway through the flight. Landed, got in a car, streamed a little bit of it on my phone, turned up at Wembley with about 10 minutes left in extra time … and got turned away."

Turned away?! After all that effort? Perhaps it’s not a total surprise given the chaotic scene that played out at Wembley all afternoon—social-media videos showed thousands of ticket-less fans overwhelming security and barging into the stadium. Fitzpatrick, needless to say, took a gentler approach.

“An idiot steward, to put it kindly, approached me and I asked if I could get in. She said, ‘No, you’re a bit late.’ I’m like, thanks. She said, ‘Where’ve you been?’ I told her I’d been at a golf tournament. She goes, ‘Well, you could have rearranged that, couldn’t you?’ I was like, ‘Well, no. No, I couldn’t rearrange that.’ So that was rather annoying."

He tried a couple other gates, but no luck. And he couldn’t get any phone reception so he could not watch the final minutes of extra time, nor could he watch England’s eventual 3-2 loss in penalties.

“We were outside the stadium for the first three penalties or so, but we basically decided that it was going to be complete hell if we didn’t get out of there. There were some rather—how do I put this—odd-looking people hanging around the ground.

He stayed Sunday night in London and finally arrived to Sandwich around midday Monday. Now, it’s back to work—despite having plenty of success on both sides of the pond this year, with five top-10s on the PGA Tour and a world No. 20 ranking, Fitzpatrick has not been able to replicate that play in the majors. He has just one top-10 in 25 career major starts, a stat he called “extremely frustrating” after finishing T-55 in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

He’s hoping the carefree attitude he had in Scotland might prove the difference at Royal St. George’s.

“I wish I had the attitude that I had last week, for every week. I didn’t really care too much about the golf—it was more about the football,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s one of those, I have to get better at just playing the week as it is. If you shoot 72, you shoot 72. You’ve given it your best. If I can get better at having a better attitude on the golf course, maybe I’ll play a bit more freely.”